By Jim Painter
For the Troy Daily News
TROY — The importance of children reading and comprehending in today’s world is the driving force behind a Troy couple to open a free learning center. Reading for Change, a literacy enhancement learning center downtown here, provides educational help at no cost to families.
Ali and Ethan Martin opened the center in May 2015 with a capacity of 15 students in grades 1-3 at all reading levels. This past May, they moved to 105 S. Market St., and now have a capacity of 50 students. The second floor facility is located across the street from City Hall.
It has an obscure entrance on the south side of the building. An elevator allows handicapped access to the center.
Currently, some 30 students are being served in their summer program that ends in two weeks. Beginning Sept. 12, sessions will be held from 3:45 to 6 p.m. each Monday and Wednesday. A free hot meal and after school snack is provided for the children at each session.
The Martins coordinate with the Troy City Schools schedule, including holidays and weather cancellations. Parents and guardians are responsible for transportation to and from the center.
Currently, a volunteer staff provides a safe, secure atmosphere that focuses on improving literacy skills. The methods include group reading, individual tutoring, song and dance activities and computer learning.
Both Troy natives, Ethan, with a background in accounting and industrial psychology, handle many administrative and overall “handyman” duties. Ali, a 2009 Troy High School graduate formerly known as Ali Arbogast, is the Executive Director and heads the instructional design.
With their 6-month-old daughter, Everly, nearby in the large open classroom, Ali recently told the TDN it was her early days of teaching at an inner city school in Cincinnati that immersed the need in her mind to what some people were facing.
“It was apparent to me that these students needed more than could be done during the (normal) school day. If their parents aren’t involved in their education, they were having real problems.”
After teaching in Cincinnati, Ali was a reading intervention tutor at Troy Christian Schools.
Reading captures future learning skills
Ali said studies have shown reading to children at a young age encourages them to embrace the activity. She claims it was her mother, Linda Arbogast, who fervently read to her children, instilled that importance. Mrs. Arbogast, along with Ali’s sister, Kim Arbogast, serves as volunteers at the center.
Ali explained her plan is to coordinate with elementary school teachers. Already many teachers have embraced the help of the center in improving student skills. Two retired elementary teachers, Sandy Lutz and Debbie Barkett, are current tutors for the Martins. A tutoring intern, Ethan Kemp, is also on staff.
Martin said the Ohio Department of Education Third Grade Guarantee is putting a lot of pressure on teachers, students and their families. The measure ensures third-grade students reach a certain reading level, or they are not promoted to the fourth-grade.
Students receive instruction in phonics, listening to an adult reader, reading with a peer, and reading alone from a book of their choice. Tutors read to small groups (no more than five children of the same reading level), work with students individually and help with activities. Leaders also provide Progress Monitoring, homework help, reading fluency and accuracy instruction.
Martin emotionally told of a student who began at the center being able to read seven words per minute. Over time, the child improved to 49 words per minute.
More important team members
Ali said the center would not be in existence if not for many community volunteers, organizations and services. Many hands are involved in regards to instruction, building maintenance and upkeep, board leadership, food service and funding, according to Martin.
Ethan Martin serves as president of the board of directors. Other members include Tricia Peters, Robin Oda, Nicole Brown and Bob Cupp. Penny Hoekstra serves as the volunteer coordinator.
Ali said Dick Steinman and Deb Grant of the St. Patrick Soup Kitchen work to provide daily meals for students. Various church groups have volunteered time and material to help furnish the center. Students from Troy Christian High School have worked to supply students with learning material and personal storage space.
“There’s more to it than just learning for students. Some have nothing of their own. These (small bins) have their names on them and it’s their things in there, nobody else’s. It helps us provide a safe and secure learning atmosphere for these children,” Ali said.
Funding has been through local programs such as the Troy Foundation along with private and corporate donations. Volunteer help has also allowed grant applications to be filed. Quietly calling upon their strong faith, Ali commented their efforts have “been blessed” by many kind people in the community.
Ali says their goal “is to reach as many students as possible, and offer them a program and facility where they feel loved, respected, challenged and successful.”
The Martins are in need of additional volunteer help in all areas of their center. They may be contacted by calling (937) 552-2484; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is www.readingforchange.com.